Touching the wounds of the past
The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to transform and resurrect. - Peter A. Levine -
This week as the preparation for my surgery moved on, I had an angiogram. I prepared for it, like a first day at school. Clothes laid out, bag packed, wee picnic, not quite sharpened pencils, but you get the drift. I was a bit nervous but also carried a little strange excitement; it’s a fine line between the two of course but if nothing else it was data for the blog (!) and a step towards the surgery.
I arrived promptly at 9 and sat till 11 chatting with a fellow patient who was awaiting surgery that day. Our life experiences may have been different but we knew nerve pain and it’s impact. But unlike him I don’t need to return to a manual job, believing it’s the only thing I can do. As he marched off to theatre cheerily giving me a wave, I felt a jolt of concern for his future.
Then I was gown on and off to theatre with the reassurance 'they are great team down there'. I had already met the senior registrar who was to do my spinal angiogram. He explained the process and the risks so I would sign my consent. Unknown to me one risk was of a spinal stroke (1:1000). I swallowed hard and signed. I was therefore slightly less calm as I went back to the bed that I was soon off to theatre in. The bed was so deeply comfortable it fooled me for the deeply uncomfortable process ahead.
Now the angiogram itself was tolerable and carried out by compassionate and skilled staff. But lying flat is the very thing that triggers my nerve pain. I negotiated some pillows below my knees but frankly as time went on that wasn’t enough. I breathed through it, mindfully managing until close to the end when the spasms nearly took over. But I made it, returned to the ward and tried to deal with the trauma. Because it did feel traumatic as much of surgery and medicine is, especially when you consider cancer treatment which I’ve faced several times.
I’m currently reading 'The Body Keeps the Score' by Bessel Van Der Kolk. It’s a fascinating journey through understanding more fully the impact of trauma and how to help as described here by Peter Levine
'So what we want to do is touch into the trauma as it’s held in the body today and at the same time find resources in the body that can heal the trauma as it’s being held'
I’ve especially been interested in this move to trauma-informed work from a public health point of view, with particular regard to adverse childhood events ( ACE’s). But as I read and reflected on the kind of trauma I have experienced, as a result of cancer diagnosis and treatment, I realise that it too has left its impact both emotionally and physically. What struck me was that although we understand a little about the incidence of depression post cancer treatment and recognise that many will have the symptoms of PTSD ,I wonder how much attention is paid to that beyond antidepressants? Should we indeed be supporting people to release the trauma beyond a chemical suppression? I guess many find their own ways to recover, healthy and otherwise but what if we understood more about this and were able to help people more clearly and consistently through to wellbeing? Is it enough to understand that trauma especially in early life, increases risks of illness both physical and emotional and then simply accept that the treatments can themselves add further trauma? I realise approaching spinal surgery that a whole lot of trauma to my body awaits and this learning is helping me gain further clarity about what might help you recovery, alongside the medical treatment and rehabilitation. I’m hoping to continue to blog during this experience. I do plan however to avoid any oversharing as a result of morphine based pain relief! But the question about trauma and recovery will be one I will be holding as I work through it all. I would love to hear your thoughts too.
What I do recognise along this journey is the power of kindness, from staff certainly but also from my friends ( who not only give time, warmth and friendship but these lovely flowers too) and of course my very special family. I'm so deeply grateful for the great people I have in my life.